The Week in Soil

A second reading of the Agricultural Bill took place in parliament on Wednesday: watch the debate in full here.

There were several calls for amendments. Caroline Lucas said public health should be at the heart of the policy and that Environment Secretary Michael Gove “must add a target of net zero emissions for farming”. The Green Party leader also took the opportunity to highlight the connection between access to green space and human wellbeing, and reiterate her call for a GCSE in natural history - an idea that Gove has agreed to discuss at a meeting on 29 October: “We’re facing a mental health epidemic in this country alongside the systematic degradation of our land.”

A landmark UN IPCC report published this week is a call to arms to strengthen response to climate change, stating we have only 12 years to avoid climate catastrophe. The report references soil in its recommendations for policymakers, stating the multiple benefits of restoration of natural ecosystems and soil carbon sequestration including improved biodiversity, soil quality & local food security. Read the highlights here.

40% of fertiliser is lost to leaching and volatilisation (both of which impact negatively on the wider environment in their own ways). Growers are encouraged to improve soil structure to reduce fertiliser wastage - protecting the environment and maximising profit margins. Particularly useful to farmers as fertiliser is one of the biggest input costs on farms and prices have reportedly risen by 31% in the last year.

The Soil Association has been quick to slam Farming Minister George Eustice’ rejection of the European Court of Justice ruling that genome editing should be classified as genetic modification. Eustice declared the technology essential in reducing reliance on pesticides, but the SA instead favours an open pollination approach which they claim is ‘lower cost, faster and more effective’ than GM methods.

There are growing concerns for the future of Australia’s land following super-charged drought periods as a result of climate change. Here a Professor of Environmental Science outlines research in to ways to improve soil structure so it can hold more water in order to futureproof the land. “How farmers manage their soil in the good times can help prepare them for managing the impacts of the next drought when it invariably comes.”

A new study in the journal ‘Sustainability’ explores the drivers behind farmers’ decision-making, aiming to contribute to the development of innovative soil governance instruments. By synthesising and analysing four decades of empirical literature researchers ascertained that economic constraints and incentives are influential, but other factors such as pro-environmental attitudes and past experience also have significant effects.

India’s first soil museum has opened in the southern state of Kerala, and its items outnumber the exhibits of the World Soil Museum in the Netherlands. The museum has been attracting a steady flow of students, researchers, farmers and nature enthusiasts, allowing them the opportunity to understand the nature of soil and modes of conservation.

And finally - there is good news in the universe, you just have to look at some dirt to find it: “Soil is always around to remind us that the world is one giant interconnected clod of wonder.” In this clip from America’s National Public Radio astrophysicist Adam Frank waxes lyrical on the majesty of soil: “Pick up a handful of dirt from a field or a forest floor, and you’ll be holding more microbes in your hand than there are stars in the galaxy.” Be inspired by the poetry he sees in the soil.